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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Crossing the Sierra de Gredos

by
Peter Handke


[an overview of the reviews and critical reactions]


general information | review summaries | review and reception notes | links | about the author

To purchase Crossing the Sierra de Gredos



Title: Crossing the Sierra de Gredos
Author: Peter Handke
Genre: Novel
Written: 2002 (Eng. 2007)
Length: 759 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Crossing the Sierra de Gredos - US
Crossing the Sierra de Gredos - UK
Crossing the Sierra de Gredos - Canada
La perte de l'image - France
Der Bildverlust - Deutschland
  • German title: Der Bildverlust oder Durch die Sierra de Gredos
  • Translated by Krishna Winston

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Why we haven't reviewed it yet:

Tempting, but a whole lot to deal with


Chances that we will review it:

Good, but it may be quite a while

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Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum . 6-8/2007 Ross Benjamin
FAZ . 19/1/2002 Hubert Spiegel
The Globe & Mail . 13/10/2007 Mark Anthony Jarman
L'Humanité . 15/7/2004 Jean-Claude Lebrun
The LA Times . 8/7/2007 Thomas McGonigle
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 26/1/2002 Martin Meyer
The NY Sun . 11/7/2007 Benjamin Lytal
The NY Times Book Rev. F 19/8/2007 Neil Gordon
San Francisco Chronicle . 5/8/2007 Christopher Byrd
The Village Voice . 3/7/2007 Charles Peterson
The Washington Post A 29/7/2007 Guy Vanderhaeghe
Die Welt F 19/1/2002 Ulrich Weinzierl
World Lit. Today A+ 4-6/2003 Erich Wolfgang Skwara
Die Zeit . 24/1/2002 Ulrich Greiner


  Review Consensus:

  No consensus, with some of the German critics ripping it to shreds

  From the Reviews:
  • "In his latest novel translated into English, Crossing the Sierra de Gredos, the Austrian author richly demonstrates his literary gifts, and the translator, Krishna Winston, sensitively renders the mesmerizing beauty of his style. In this book, as in much of Handke’s previous work, the most stirring passages disclose the inherent strangeness of the world. (…) The motif of the image (Bild) is the thematic fulcrum of the novel. Curiously, the English translation retains only the second part of the original title, Der Bildverlust oder Durch die Sierra de Gredos, meaning "The Loss of the Image or Through the Sierra de Gredos." A key passage in the book illuminates the significance of the title, arguing that the potency of images has been lost in a contemporary culture flooded with "synthetic, mass-produced, artificial" stimuli. Displaying a strong affinity to German Romanticism, Handke seeks to inaugurate a new attunement with the world. The heroine embodies the poetic impulse that animates the novel. " - Ross Benjamin, Bookforum

  • "Immer wieder wird der Satzfluß unterbrochen von Bekräftigungen, Präzisierungen, Nachfragen. So entsteht ein Erzählgestus der allernervösesten Bedächtigkeit, exakt und vage, selbstgewiß und tastend, kunstvoll, respektheischend und unendlich nervtötend. (…) Weit häufiger sind Zuckerwatte-Sentenzen und klebrig-kitschige Passagen (…..) Wer für Pretiosen und Naschwaren dieser Art nicht empfänglich ist, muß leiden. Es bleibt ihm wenig erspart, denn Handke, dieser reizbarste unter den Friedfertigen, zielt in seinem neuen Buch wiederum auf Großes." - Hubert Spiegel, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Peter Handke's Crossing the Sierra de Gredos is a sprawling topsy-turvy novel, funny and serious (...) Are there contradictions and rewards in Handke's hefty novel ? Plenty. Is there drama ? Not really. Plot ? Nada. But there are valuable and smart meditations on power and money, on war and peace, on borders. There are perhaps several books co-existing here: parts that function lucidly and parts that are stultifying and thresholds between. In this, the book resembles many lives and journeys. Crossing the Sierra de Gredos is fascinating and sneaky and admirable, but it is a difficult pilgrimage." - Mark Anthony Jarman, The Globe & Mail

  • "(U)n livre en même temps touffu, débridé et lumineux, l’une de ces grandes fables qui jalonnent l’histoire de la littérature, parce que l’esprit et le sens d’une époque s’y trouvent symboliquement saisis et représentés." - Jean-Claude Lebrun, L'Humanité

  • "(O)ne of the most emotionally rewarding and intellectually demanding novels of the year. (...) Readers participate in the woman's journey not by an easy and trivial identification with her, but at the artist's level: It's as though we were witnessing the creation of the woman traveling and the various losses she has had (.....) Handke's handling of this material is complemented by an incredibly nuanced description of the desire to travel and the fears that such travel provokes as one is traveling. Reader, don't worry. You won't get lost in abstractions: Handke always roots his heroine in a vivid real world." - Thomas McGonigle, The Los Angeles Times

  • "To a less than sympathetic reader, this novel is all but unreadable. Long, hair-splitting sentences that owe little to lived reality suggest that Mr. Handke's distrust of reported fact has led him to disregard his contract with the reader. This writer once wrote a play called Offending the Audience (1966), and it would be easy to underestimate him. But Crossing the Sierra de Gredos will not convince his detractors." - Benjamin Lytal, The New York Sun

  • "The translation, by Krishna Winton, is above suspicion. But from the first line, Handke's readers are oppressed by tortured prose, a profusion of elliptical images, allegorical temptations and symbolic hints, which forcefully invite us to "sniff around" and "hunt for clues" -- all the while undermining our every attempt to do so. (...) Perhaps Handke believes that only scholars and specialists should be allowed to share his secrets (.....) Handke's didactic refusal to let us make of his book what we will, his sedulous effort to keep us dizzy and confused, is, more than anything else, a way of infantilizing his readers." - Neil Gordon, The New York Times Book Review

  • "The truth is that novels such as Across and Crossing the Sierra de Gredos are not for the reading-as-pleasure set. Moreover, they require a kind of literary asceticism as apart from mere intellectual curiosity. (...) But the novelist's signature attention to the luminal and his detail-encrusted sentences necessitate fortitude and recall that here is an author who once wrote a play called Offending the Audience. (...) Bearing these aspects in mind, it would be folly to suppose that Crossing the Sierra de Gredos is anything less than a work of art that, though routinely asphyxiating -- with its acrid style; interchangeable, pontificating voices; and excessive length -- is helmed by a stupendously capable writer." - Christopher Byrd, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "Crossing the Sierra de Gredos, both brilliant and maddening by turns, makes an artistic apologia for Handke's reactionary politics." - Charles Peterson, The Village Voice

  • "The novel issues a fervent call to look again, both inward and outward. (...) While a master of riveting, specific and detailed description, he also makes use of philosophical abstractions, aphorisms and question marks that liberally sprinkle every page. Seemingly straightforward declarations are summarily denied, qualified or interrogated. At first, I found this annoyingly evasive, as if I had been handed a fork to eat soup -- and not just any soup, but a dauntingly large tureen of consommé. Yet gradually, I came to understand these were not simply stylistic tics but an attempt to prod perception, and that this wonderful, profound novel asked more than the suspension of disbelief, it demanded attention and patience, "a reading," as Handke's narrator says, "that was neither skimming nor poking around nor devouring, but a reflective tracing, in places also spelling out and deciphering."" - Guy Vanderhaeghe, The Washington Post

  • "Mag die Konstruktion der Story dem Durchschnittskonsumenten auch hirnrissig erscheinen -- es stimmt einfach hinten und vorne nichts --, dem Verfasser leuchtete sie offenbar ein. Er versucht, das Fantasma einer sich selbst erzählenden Geschichte in die Praxis umzusetzen. Um Kleinigkeiten wie zum Beispiel Plausibilität kümmert er sich dabei nicht im Geringsten. Dieser Dichter glaubt, eine neue, eine Gegenwelt zu erschaffen. Dass in ihr, der rückwärtsgewandten Utopie, das Idyllische dem Reaktionären zum Verwechseln ähnlich sieht, fällt unter die Rubrik Künstlerpech. (…) Wahrscheinlich hat Handke noch nie so viele Worte gemacht und damit so wenig gesagt. (…) Überhaupt besteht das Hauptproblem dieses scheinbaren Monumentalwerks in seiner stilistischen Verwahrlosung. (…) Kurzum: Mit Der Bildverlust ist der Erzähler Peter Handke Bankrott gegangen. Er allerdings würde schreiben, und leider hat er es auch geschrieben: "in Bankrott"." - Ulrich Weinzierl, Die Welt

  • "With this novel -- and let us remember how sparingly this author terms his narrative prose as novels -- Peter Handke has written his magnum opus, not just in terms of length, but equally in terms of spiritual scope and aesthetic innovation. (…) Yet even where no planned vengeance against naysayer Handke may have been at work, the rapid pace of modem reading and criticism certainly worked against the fair reception of a novel that, unlike any other, demands not just slow and careful but repeated reading -- a luxury most of today's star critics believe they cannot afford. Therefore a hurried race through these deep and complex 759 pages must result in a thorough misinterpretation of Handke's artistic intention; moreover, it will obscure the initially mentioned, highly fascinating return to the experimentative courage typical of the author's early literary creations." - Erich Wolfgang Skwara, World Literature Today

  • "In diesem monströsen und voluminösen Roman jedoch ist Handke außer Rand und Band. Nie hat er sich so übermütig, verschroben, haltlos ins Nebul7ouml;se hineinfabuliert, sich (und uns !) derart halsbrecherisch all seinen Lieblingstheorien und Marotten ausgeliefert. Man liest, kratzt sich am Kopf, versteht kein Wort, liest weiter, dann wieder geht einem ein Lichtlein auf, man freut sich, aber zu früh, denn plötzlich feixt Handke wie ein Kobold, foppt den Leser, wechselt die Erzählperspektive, Zeit und Ort und Sprache. (…) Aber ach, wie mühsam ist die Lektüre dieses Mal. Der Text wirkt zuweilen, als habe Handke alles hineingepackt, was ihm einfiel, alles, was er je geschrieben hat, das bereits Gestrichene inbegriffen. Schwer zu sagen, worum es geht. Eigentlich um alles." - Ulrich Greiner, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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Notes about the Reviews
and the Book's Reception
:

       A lot of the German critics didn't take too kindly to 700+ pages of Handke, but maybe as Erich Wolfgang Skwara pointed out in his (very enthusiastic) review in World Literature Today, this is the kind of book and writing that requires more time and patience to sink in and consider properly.
       It will be interesting to see how much English-language coverage there is, and how the book is received in the US and UK.

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Links:

Crossing the Sierra de Gredos: Reviews: Peter Handke: Other books by Peter Handke under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of German literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Prolific Austrian author Peter Handke was born in 1942.

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© 2007-2010 the complete review

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